Discussing the Future of Women’s Safety & Rights in India

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Cultures change when a critical mass of people is found to have altered its perspectives, values and behaviors. We may be witnessing an important cultural shift in India based on the massive public reaction to the rape of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi in December of 2012.

This cataclysmic event, replete with visual images of the brutality, as well as the outpour of anger and grief from Indian women and others around the world, seems to be serving as a catalyst in which the status of women in India is being scrutinized and will likely change.

While we marvel at India as a developing global powerhouse, according to The Economist, “A UN index in 2011 amalgamated details on female education and employment, women in politics, sexual and maternal health and more.

It ranked India 134th out of 187 countries, worse than Saudi Arabia, Iraq or China.” And, according to a survey by TrustLaw, India is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women, ranked alongside Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan and Somalia.

So, why is there reason to think this might provoke a cultural change? Why could this attack alter the landscape of women’s rights? Many reasons, of course, but the horror of the attack — with its accompanying outcry for change — was magnified exponentially because this was a situation that many Indian women could have faced. India’s aspiring middle class of women, who desire the upward mobility now available because of better access to education and greater freedoms, make this horrifying act something that a vast number of people can identify with.

An interview on NPR with feminist writer and publisher Urvashi Butalia asserts that traditional Indian beliefs are indeed being challenged. Rapid globalization, competition for jobs, blurring of class and caste distinctions could be some of the culprits behind such acts of violence, but its worldwide notoriety and the collective abhorrence of hundreds of millions of people may be enough to induce change.

Says Butalia to NPR’s Marco Werman, “A lot of the time we say changing mindsets is really difficult, but the speed with which globalization has changed mindsets makes me feel that it’s possible and that it can be done. If Coke and Vodafone can reach every village in India, why can’t state policies, why can’t governance, why can’t the sort of changes the society really needs?”

What do you think?

Photo credit: from Globalvoicesonline.